Sagoff, Mark. The Economy of the Earth
New York: ISBN 0521341132
Adams asks in his essay “The Dynamo and the Virgin” how the products of modern industrial civilization will be compared with those of the religious culture of the Middle Ages. If he could see the landfills and hazardous-waste facilities bordering the power stations and honeymoon hotels of Niagara Falls, he would know the answer. He would understand what happens when efficiency replaces infinity as the central conception of value. The dynamos at Niagara will not produce another Mont-Saint-Michel. “All the steam in the world,” Adams writes, “could not, like the Virgin, build Chartres.”
The shrine was empty when I visited it. The cult of Our Lady of Fatima, I imagine, has few devotees. The cult of allocative efficiency, however, has many. Where some people see only environmental devastation, its devotees perceive welfare, utility, and the maximization of wealth. They see the satisfaction of wants. They envision the good life.
As I looked from the shrine over the smudged and ruined terrain, I thought of all the wants and needs that are satisfied in a landscape full of honeymoon cottages, commercial strips, and dumps for hazardous waste. I hoped that Our Lady of Fatima, worker of miracles, might serve, at least for the moment, as the patroness of cost-benefit analysis. I thought of the miracle of perfect markets. The prospect, however, looked only darker in that light.